LeanTech: Money Small, Justice Big

By Published On: March 9, 2012

This spring, the California Public Utilities Commission is likely to decide how Southern California Edison should use revenue from selling sulfur oxide emissions credits left over after shutting down the 1,580 MW, coal-fired Mohave Generation Station in Laughlin, Nevada, six years ago. In policy terms the money is minimal--less than $5.5 million--according to filings with the commission. To Division of Ratepayer Advocates attorney Cleveland Lee, the decision is clear. Edison is getting a windfall from the sale of the credits and it belongs to ratepayers, who should be credited on their bills, Lee wrote in a Feb. 21 filing with the commission. Edison attorneys agree. But Native Americans injured by the shutdown are looking for empathy. The Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe are thirsty for justice after being left high and dry by the plant’s closure. They assert that it’s fair to provide them with the proceeds from selling the emissions rights. They want to use the funds as seed money for developing renewable energy projects that could serve as an economic replacement for the coal they once mined for Mohave. Ratepayers won’t miss the money, which would amount to less than a penny/year in savings on the average Edison power bill, Tara Kaushik, Navajo Nation attorney stated in a Feb. 21 filing. Give the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe a chance at recovering from the economic loss caused by the coal plant closure, she and others argue. After all, for decades, Peabody Coal mined coal on Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe land in northeastern Arizona, where it was crushed, mixed with water, and transported in a slurry pipeline 275 miles to the power plant in Nevada. Water was taken from an aquifer in the Navajo Nation. The mine “was one of the most significant economic engines” for the Navajo Nation, according to Kaushik, supplying jobs and mining royalties. When Edison in 2005 closed the plant down in the face of expensive air pollution control retrofit requirements and a lack of water to continue to run the slurry pipeline, it left the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe with unemployment and a largely depleted aquifer, drained by years of usage for the slurry pipeline. Royalties ended too. Since 2006, the Native Americans have suffered $447 million in economic losses, according to Kaushik. To make up for that loss, the Navajo Nation wants to convert an old coal mine to a solar energy plant, erect a wind farm, and build a transmission facility to deliver the power to California. The Hopi Tribe has similar plans. While the few million dollars from the sale of sulfur oxides wouldn’t begin to pay for the projects, it would provide the money for planning and studies needed to advance them, they say. Developing such projects would help California meet its 33 percent renewables portfolio standard, providing far more benefit to ratepayers than a fraction of a cent bill credit each year, they contend. Clearly, turning over the money to the tribal organizations to study and plan renewable energy projects could come to naught if the projects are never developed. Given the history, though, when placed on the scale of justice it may be a risk worth taking.

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